Bonnie Tang Man-lam, 23, is an outspoken young lady who is determined to make Hong Kong a more eco-friendly city.
As early as in 2012, Tang and her friends initiated a non-profit organization called The Leftovers, which aims to reduce food waste by collecting well-packed leftover food in the city and handing it to the needy.
Selected as one of the 2013 winners for the Hong Kong Youth Service Award by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Tang took her chance on the stage to urge chief executive CY Leung to listen to Hong Kong people on matters related to the issuance of free-to-air TV licenses.
More recently, Tang — who also serves as a campaigner at Greenpeace — has put the spotlight on the smuggling chain of fish bladders of the critically-endangered totoaba fish from Mexico to mainland China via Hong Kong.
Tang tested the goods control enforced by Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in person. She found that it is not difficult to to smuggle Mexican totoaba fish bladders from Gulf of California to Hong Kong and then to China.
Last month, she was able to walk through with fake totoaba fish bladders even though she was using the “Goods to Declare Channel” upon entering Hong Kong.
“The totoaba fish bladder is mistaken as one of the typical dried seafood items like the dried scallop or mushroom, which are allowed to cross the Hong Kong border freely,” she says.
Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, one could face a fine of up to HK$5 million and imprisonment for two years for smuggling forbidden items.
However, the number of prosecutions launched in 2014 was only 266, with 80 percent of the cases involving smuggling of orchids and ivory. In the last five years, the most severe punishment was only a 10-month term in prison. Meanwhile, one case saw a fine of just HK$100.
Hence, the risk of smuggling endangered species can be considered as nothing in Hong Kong, says Tang.
She points out that fish bladders weighing 400-600 grams can fetch HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 on the market. In some cases, buyers were willing to pay even a half a million, Tang says.
Mexican totoaba fish is gaining popularity in mainland China due to its resemblance to the Chinese bahaba, which is also critically-endangered at the moment due to the overfishing as the fish bladder is used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, no noted medicine values are found in Mexican totoaba fish bladders.
From her investigations, Tang has found that there is a high level of interdependence between Hong Kong and mainland China.
“As the mainland Chinese people become wealthier, their demand for luxury goods will grow naturally. Meanwhile, Hong Kong people love speculating on all kinds of things; so I think they are also accountable for the smuggling incidents as they have pushed up the prices in the market.”
“Many Hong Kong businessmen are even providing one-stop services for supplying goods into the mainland market,” she says.
Tang reckons that awareness levels of Hong Kong people are not much better compared to their mainland counterparts when it comes to matters related to flow of goods across the borders.
“The problem of parallel-goods traders involves governance issues in both the mainland and Hong Kong. Now the public keeps accusing the mainland traders, but that doesn’t help solve the issue at all.”
In other comments, Tang expressed dissatisfaction at what she termed as stagnation in social progress in Hong Kong.
“Why don’t we take care of the easier social issues such as the environmental problems and the welfare of Hong Kong elderly?” she asks.
Tang is a journalism and communications course graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 2014, she visited Mexico as an exchange student and stayed there for more than half a year. Her Mexican classmates told her that working as a reporter in Mexico is so dangerous that people will end up being murdered.
The exchange with Mexican students happened around the same time when former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to was brutally attacked by a knife-wielding assailant on a Hong Kong street.
But the dangers facing the media fraternity wasn’t the reason why Tang hasn’t pursued a career in journalism.
“As a matter of fact, NGOs and the media both aim to unveil social injustices and try to make the world a better place,” she says, explaining her choice of working through the NGO route.
Tang believes that change can be effected as long as actions, regardless of whether they are small or big, are taken.
She hopes the Hong Kong public will become more aware of global issues like the smuggling of totoaba fish bladders and take a little step forward to initiating the changes needed to solve the problems.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 8.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
– Contact us at [email protected]